Book Review - Storied Waters
I work best with some background noise, somewhat often the background is a fly fishing podcast. Normally I don't listen too carefully and it is just "there". The Wet Fly Swing is one of those podcasts that I listen to once in a while, depending upon the guest. My search came up with a podcast with David Van Wie talking about his book, "Storied Waters: 35 Fabled Fly-Fishing Destinations and the Writers & Artists Who Made Them Famous". I knew the name as I had heard of his previous book, "The Confluence" but had not read it so I tuned it, planning to mostly ignore the podcast but maybe picking up a nugget or two.
To be honest, like most podcasts I listen to in my office, it mostly went in one ear and out the other. But enough of my interest was captured to get me to buy a signed copy of the book. And like a lot of books, it sat for a while before I finally got around to reading. It was a particularly hot and sweat-inducing August day at the West Fork Sports Club that was more suited to reading and enjoying a beer (or two, maybe three). I read the whole damn thing in one day. Afternoon slipped into evening and I finished the last chapter on Dud Dean's Kennebec River and the epilogue at about 11 PM before sipping into my sleeping bag and calling it a night.
I am a sucker for a book that includes Wisconsin fly fishing - let's face it, there are not too many. Add in that there is an Aldo Leopold connection in the book and I had to buy it. Before skipping to the Wisconsin chapters - there are three - a bit about the book. The author's journey began with a connection he had made and an invitation he had received from John D. Voelker's (Robert Traver) daughter to visit Frenchman Pond in Michigan's Upper Peninsula. Robert Traver is a favorite author - his Trout Madness and Trout Magic sit on my bookshelf after having read them years ago. And the author fished a number of the same Pennsylvania streams I had fished years ago.
In 2017, the author loaded up his car (I bet it was a Subaru - I just have a feeling), began his journey in New Hampshire, traveled as far West as Wisconsin's Driftless Area and back home again. The first stop was Walden Pond, made famous by Henry David Thoreau whose book "Walden" was maybe not one of my favorite reads but an important book nonetheless. From Concord, Massachusetts, he travels to New York and some of the famed Catskill streams. Then on to Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Michigan, back to New York and on to New England. In total, he put 5,700 miles on his car and stopped at a number of the Eastern United States' most historic fly fishing destinations.
There are three chapters about his travels in Wisconsin. In the last week in May, he is fishing in Southern Wisconsin and is on his way to the Leopold "shack" at the Aldo Leopold Foundation in the Baraboo area. His original plan was to fish the Flambeau River, one of Leopold's essays in the section on Wisconsin in A Sand County Almanac. However, Curt Meine, Senior Fellow with the Aldo Leopold foundation and a Leopold biographer, suggested he head to the Driftless and Coon Valley where Aldo Leopold worked with farmers on the nation's first watershed management project. You have almost certainly seen the sign on the West side of Coon Valley and like me - you have probably pulled over and taken a closer look. If not, here is your chance to read it.
For more about the sign, visit The Historical Marker Database.
In Wisconsin, he fished some of what I consider my home waters in the Driftless. Then he made his way north to the Flambeau - though there is no certainty that he fished where Leopold had as Aldo Leopold never really divulged his location - nor did he ever divulge where "Alder Fork" was. Dan Styer of Oberlin College in Ohio writes an interesting story of his paddling of Leopold's Flambeau. He writes,
Leopold’s essay “Flambeau” is high on thoughtful, evocative prose, but low on specifics. To re-create his journey I would need to answer questions like: Where and when did Leopold put his canoe into the river? Where and when did he take out? Did he paddle the North Fork or the South Fork of the Flambeau River?
The author may or may not have cast exactly in Leopold's shadow but he cast in the Flambeau and he learned of an author I think of a treasure, Gordon MacQuarrie. If you are not familiar with MacQuarrie's stories - well first, shame on you - but do go read them! So add the Namekagon, from MacQuarrie's story "Now, in June" to the itinerary. That is really the beauty of the trip and the book. The author really had one goal and deadline in place - to visit Frenchman's Pond and visit John Voelker's daughter. The rest is not entirely "fly by the seat of your pants" but it is what I think is a great road trip - it is flexible. As he meets new people, he allows the trip to take him wherever it feels like it should.
The book is really an ode to authors as David Van Wie sets up in the preface. It was a fun journey to follow. That I stayed up all night to finish reading the book is a ringing endorsement. The chapters are a few pages each and you have a bit of a feeling like you are along for the journey. I picked it up because of the waters I was familiar with but came to really enjoy reading about places I had only a passing familiarity with - the Catskills, Adirondacks, and waters further East in New England.
Author's Website and the Storied Waters page